How to write a marketing plan

A customer focused business ethos is a proven method to increase the chances of a sustainable and profitable future. The marketing planning process is at the heart of any truly marketing orientated company, and ensures the customer is at the centre of all key decisions.

The plan is a detailed written document which can be used to promote a single product, of form the annual business strategy. We have split the marketing plan into three steps, which are easy to follow and equally relevant to both small and large businesses.

Stage 1: Research and planning

Understand your customer and the marketing environment, look for opportunities for growth.

Stage 2: Developing your marketing strategy

Identify objectives and choose the right path to exploit opportunities highlighted in the research stage.

Stage 3: Determining actions and controls

Implement your strategy and track success.

The marketing planning process is summarised in the diagram below

The marketing plan should provide direction for all relevant members of the organization and should be referred to and updated throughout the year. The main purpose of the marketing plan is to provide a structured approach to help marketing managers consider all the relevant elements of the planning process.

STAGE 1: RESEARCH & PLANNING

This section includes the following:

  • Statement of your current situation and scope of the plan
  • Research into potential / current customers
  • Examining the marketing environment
  • Identifying opportunities for growth

CURRENT BUSINESS SITUATION

Summarise your current position, possible items include:

  • Financial results
  • Sale figures and trends
  • Market share
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Level of repeat business

THE MARKETING ENVIRONMENT

Examining both the internal and external marketing environments can identify both opportunities and threats to the business and is a core component of the plan. The whole area is usually broken down into the macro, micro and internal environments as summarised in the diagram below.

THE MACRO-ENVIRONMENT

A commonly used method of quantifying the macro external environment is with a PEST analysis. PEST is an acronym which divides the macro-environment into four areas – Political, Economic, Social, and Technological, examples of which are explained below.

Political environmental factors

  • Trading agreements
  • Tax rules
  • Employment regulation
  • Environmental legislation
  • Legal issues

Economic environmental factors

  • Recession
  • Interest rates
  • Exchange rates
  • Rate of inflation
  • Population wealth
  • Growth of the housing market

Social environmental factors

  • 'Green' behaviour
  • Eating habits
  • Shifts in attitude
  • Population demographics
  • Attitudes to career

Technological environmental factors

  • Emergence of new communications channels
  • Improved production processes
  • Advances in computing and the internet
  • New technologies such as electric vehicles
  • Automation
  • Reduced cost of materials

MICRO-ENVIRONMENT

The micro-environment includes factors which are still not directly under the control of the company, but more directly relevant to strategy such as consumer trends, stakeholders, suppliers and competitors. Some example items are listed below.

  • Summary of your market segment
  • Market growth, trends and competition
  • Potential new markets
  • Direction from shareholders
  • Supplier costs and service quality
  • Changes in consumer behaviour

Understanding your customers and market

Ensuring a thorough knowledge of the consumer is vital for successful marketing planning. Use the primary and secondary (first and second hand) market research information at your disposal to describe your customer. As your understanding of the audience improves, you'll be able to design products which cater for their needs better, and you will be able to communicate with them more directly. If you have a broad customer base, you might need to split your customers into groups (segmentation). Some examples are shown below.

  • Typical customer demographics
  • Customer profile
  • Market size
  • Market geography

Understanding your competitors

  • Who are your competitors?
  • What are they likely to be doing?
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Reputation and brand equity
  • How are they using the marketing mix?
  • Infrastructure and supply chain
  • Product strategy

INTERNAL ENVIRONMENT

The internal marketing environment includes factors that the business can directly influence. This can include:

  • The organisational structure
  • The strengths and weaknesses of a department
  • Financial stability and resources
  • Staff morale
  • Spare production capacity
  • Client base
  • Pricing structure
  • Selling channels
  • Staff skills

IDENTIFYING OPPORTUNITIES IN THE MARKETING ENVIRONMENT

Once you have completed the internal and external environmental audit, you can summarise your findings using a SWOT analysis which can be used to make key decisions.

SWOT ANALYSIS

A 'SWOT analysis' is a useful way of summarizing the results of the environmental audit and presenting the current status of a business. SWOT simply stands for the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats which have emerged from examining the macro, micro and internal marketing environments.

For example, here is a SWOT analysis for a fictional electric car manufacturer

Strength

  • Our electric motors are cheap to produce and maintenance free
  • Charge time is class leading
  • Production capacity can be increased
  • R&D department is class leading

Weakness

  • Batteries are heavy, slow to charge and provide limited mileage
  • Dealer network is small
  • Customer trust in the segment is low
  • Market is highly competitive

Opportunities

  • Government grants are available
  • Road tax breaks for electric cars
  • Market is growing rapidly
  • Battery technology is evolving

Threats

  • Tesla has secured a large government grant
  • The big players are investing heavily
  • Hybrid and diesel technology is evolving fast

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